Tuohy family say they are victims of $15m ‘shakedown’ over Blind Side allegations | NFL

The Tuohy family, who former NFL star Michael Oher has accused of deceiving him over the story at the heart of the film The Blind Side, say they are the victims of a “shakedown”.

In a petition filed in a Tennessee court on Monday, Oher claims Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy did not adopt him – a central part of the movie’s plot – but instead deceived him into making them his conservators just after his 18th birthday. Oher, who is Black, grew up in grinding poverty before being taken in by the Tuohys, a wealthy white family. He went on to play in the NFL. His life story was part of a book by Michael Lewis that was then adapted into the film of the same name.

Oher’s petition claims that as conservators, the Tuohys were able to sign deals that earned them and their two birth children millions of dollars from the film but excluded Oher from any of the income.

On Tuesday Martin Singer, an attorney for the Tuohy family issued a statement saying that “the idea that the family ever sought to profit off Mr Oher is not only offensive, it is transparently ridiculous.”

The statement also claims Oher had threatened to go public with the story unless the Tuohys paid him $15m.

“In reality, the Tuohys opened their home to Mr Oher, offered him structure, support and, most of all, unconditional love,” the statement said. “They have consistently treated him like a son and one of their three children. His response was to threaten them, including saying that he would plant a negative story about them in the press unless they paid him $15m.”

Oher’s attorney, J Gerard Stranch IV, has not responded to the Tuohys’ statement.

Oher says the family earned millions in royalties from The Blind Side, which took more than $300m at the box office; but he got nothing for a story “that would not have existed without him”.

“The lie of Michael’s adoption is one upon which co-conservators Leigh Anne Tuohy and Sean Tuohy have enriched themselves at the expense of their Ward, the undersigned Michael Oher,” Oher’s petition alleges. “Michael Oher discovered this lie to his chagrin and embarrassment in February of 2023, when he learned that the conservatorship to which he consented on the basis that doing so would make him a member of the Tuohy family, in fact provided him no familial relationship with the Tuohys.”

Stranch told ESPN on Monday that his client did not examine the conservatorship until he retired from the NFL in 2016. A lawyer eventually told him that documents indicated he had never been adopted by the Tuohys.

“Mike didn’t grow up with a stable family life,” Stranch said. “When the Tuohy family told Mike they loved him and wanted to adopt him, it filled a void that had been with him his entire life. Discovering that he wasn’t actually adopted devastated Mike and wounded him deeply.”

The Tuohys have in the past said that they earned a flat fee rather than royalties from The Blind Side and shared the money with Oher. Singer reiterated that stance in his statement on Tuesday, although he said that the family received annual income from the film, which they offered to share with Oher.

“They insisted that any money received be divided equally. And they have made good on that pledge,” the statement said. “The evidence – documented in profit participation checks and studio accounting statements – is clear: over the years, the Tuohys have given Mr Oher an equal cut of every penny received from The Blind Side. Even recently, when Mr Oher started to threaten them about what he would do unless they paid him an eight-figure windfall, and, as part of that shakedown effort refused to cash the small profit checks from the Tuohys, they still deposited Mr Oher’s equal share into a trust account they set up for his son.”

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Oher’s petition seeks an end to the Tuohys’ conservatorship and to stop the family from using his name and image to promote their work. He is also seeking financial compensation. Leigh Anne Tuohy often tells The Blind Side story in her work as a motivational speaker.

Singer said the Tuohys will release Oher from the conservatorship but “will not hesitate to defend their good names, stand up to this shakedown and defeat this offensive lawsuit.”

Oher has said the movie depicted him as unintelligent, which went on to affect his NFL career.

“People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie,” Oher told ESPN in 2015. “They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am.”

Oher was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first-round of the 2009 draft, and he won a Super Bowl with the team in February 2013 in New Orleans, where Sean Tuohy and Blind Side author Lewis are from. He also played for the Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans.

Oher earned $34m during his football career. The petition does not allege the Tuohys took any of his NFL income.